When I first entered college at the tender age of seventeen, my parents wanted me to pursue a computer science degree, because “computers are the future!” It didn’t matter that I wasn’t allowed to use a computer until I was in high school, or that I still didn’t own a cell phone (I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was twenty-one), or that I really wasn’t all that interested in computer science—computers were where the jobs were, and that’s the point of a college education, right? To get jobs. To my working-class parents, neither of which went to college outside of a few community college courses, college was just a means to becoming a more skilled worker in whatever industry was growing the most at the time I entered.
College is about more than the acquisition of job-applicable skills. More importantly, college is about more than picking a major that makes you marketable to companies; college is about pursuing an education that will put you in the place where you can do the most good in the world.
For me, that’s in the humanities, and I’ll tell you why.
Now that I am older and wiser (aka thirty, ugh), I am an undergraduate in English, and I have benefited tremendously from my pursuit of the humanities. While I appreciate technology (my first trek through college left me with a recording engineering certificate) and obviously take advantage of it today (as in this blog), a degree in computer science would have never satisfied me in the same way my English degree has.
When people think of studying English, a few very specific things pop into their minds. Yes, I have studied grammar, I read a lot of books, and I write a ton.
Through my studies, I now understand the discourse patterns of English. I can deconstruct a sentence and understand where each part of speech goes. I understand the sound patterns of English as well as why English has a variety of words with confusing and often contradictory pronunciations. I can read between 800 and 1000 words a minute, when I push myself, with almost 100% accuracy and retention. I understand the acquisition pattern of a second language and can help other students who are learning English as a second language do so more efficiently and with a greater understanding of the process.
I can deconstruct a text using various critical lenses that often mirror social or artistic movements (formalism, socialism, feminism, etc.) that give me a deeper understanding of the text than just a straight reading alone would provide. I understand the rhetorical patterns of literary composition, exposition, and speech and can use these to my advantage when it comes to my writing as well as analyzing what others write or say.
I have a knowledge of the classics—from Greek, Norse, and Irish myths to Arthurian Romance and Shakespeare, which yet again adds meaning to other texts that I read because a lot of classic and modern writers depend on tropes and references from past texts to enhance their own purpose for writing. I also understand the contributions the form, genre, and reader response to the text plays out, which comes in very handy when I write.
English has also made me a more creative person. Through studying other stories, poems, plays, and various other texts, I have seen how other people think and construct creatively. With that knowledge, I can then try new and experimental methods of my own invention while still following the patterns of those who wrote creatively before me to see how an audience responds and if these new creative outlets are well received. I have studied theories that question what makes art art, and I have deeply contemplated and tried to find my own definition to the question as well.
I want my Ph.D. in Humanities (English, more specifically, though I haven’t narrowed it down much beyond that—it’ll be a summer project for me to find the right programs and disciplines to apply to) because I see the value in all of these traits I have learned. English has made me a more critical person, able to deeply consider and analyze the world around me and engage in a vast array of my interests. Studying English has made me a scientist, a mathematician, an artist, a writer, a teacher, a psychologist, a sociologist, a historian, a critic, an actor, a director, and an audience member.
I can study linguistics much like an anthropologist would. I can study composition and patterns much like people in marketing, television, or advertising would do. I can look at the different variables of language and mathematically manipulate them to construct a sentence, a paragraph, or a paper. I can read the classics and look at them through a critical lens like feminism and evaluate it on a sociological level. I understand the acquisition of second language and can help second language learners understand it, too, so they don’t feel discouraged by simple grammatical mistakes that will go away with practice and time. When I write, I can see the patterns of discourse taking shape and manipulate those patterns to better fit with what I think my audience will respond to or enjoy the most.
My Ph.D. would only enhance these skills, and deepen my skills when it comes to research in one, or more, of these fields. And after that, I want to teach. I don’t care where I teach or what I teach, just that I can pass these skills that I value along to the next generation so they too can see the value and application of these traits and use them to enhance their own critical engagement, creativity, reading, and writing skills. This is where I think I’ll do the most good in the world, and I’m really looking forward to getting there.